A week’s long meeting of the CITES Standing Committee ended today. The Committee governs the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) between full-scale meetings of the Conference of the Parties.
The decisions taken are pressuring a number of countries to be held accountable over their failure to deal with rampant poaching and illegal trade, but no sanctions or punitive measures were agreed.
African countries identified as the main sources of illegal ivory in trade, plus Asian and East African transit countries and the two countries with the largest illegal ivory consumer markets—China and Thailand—were given until the end of the year by the Standing Committee to provide written reports of what progress they have made in tackling the illicit trade.
Failure to do so could ultimately result in a suspension of all trade in CITES-listed species with the country concerned, but the CITES Parties have so far avoided taking such action.
Thailand, for example, had already been called upon to submit such a report, and did so at this meeting. WWF and TRAFFIC considered their report vague and non-committal, and joined others in calling for a timetable for the legislative changes needed to close a gaping loophole that allows ivory from illegal sources to be laundered into the Thai marketplace.
“With elephant poaching and illegal trade in ivory reaching new heights, we should not be shy about using CITES trade suspensions as an international tool to prevent a full-blown elephant crisis,” said Tom Milliken, who co-authored the report on the status of elephants.
The report highlighted that up to 23% of Central Africa’s elephant populations are being killed each year. This was further evidenced by the massacre of more than 30 elephants in Chad whilst the CITES meeting was taking place. Meanwhile, Central African governments revealed a new plan at the meeting to combat poaching and illegal trade in the region.
The Standing Committee also instructed CITES’ Rhino Working Group to focus on actions needed to reduce demand for rhino horn and was tasked with developing a demand reduction strategy.
For tigers, the spotlight fell on the Global Tiger Recovery Programme agreed in St Petersburg in November 2010. A number of tiger range States had failed to report to the committee, even though obliged to do so.
The illegal trade in tiger parts was also on the agenda, with TRAFFIC highlighting its work on reducing demand for tiger products, while China reaffirmed its commitment to the ban on trade in tiger parts, but made no firm statements about phasing out existing tiger farms.